The brain drain is becoming a serious problem for Madison Avenue, top executives say, as talented professionals are lured away by other industries, particularly those involving the Internet, and talented students eschew advertising for dot-coms, Wall Street, consulting companies and even Hollywood.
Whether it's low salaries for entry-level positions, the lack of training programs, the notion that advertising is part of the old economy or misperceptions about what advertising is, agencies and trade organizations say they realize it's time to advertise advertising.
"One thing we know how to do is market," said O. Burtch Drake, president and chief executive at the American Association of Advertising Agencies in New York, known as the Four A's.
"The need for more and better talent coming into the business has been around for two to three years now," he added. "It's not a shortage of people interested in advertising; we just want to be sure we're getting the best-qualified people."
Toward that end, the Advertising Educational Foundation in New York has put up a Web site at www.AEF.com to answer questions from prospective industry employees. The site, which was built by two employees at Advanced Media Concepts in New York, Richard Goldstein and Todd Rengel, is updated regularly. The two have since opened their own Web agency, Animus Rex.
"As the ad industry clients embrace the new economy, so does the industry itself," said David Bell, chairman of the foundation, who is also chairman and chief executive at True North Communications.
The site has been organized into different channels based on recommendations from participants in the foundation's ambassador program -- professionals who visit campuses to meet informally with students studying or interested in studying advertising.
"We can harness the power of the Web to be ubiquitous," said Paula Alex, managing director at the foundation.
One channel focuses specifically on college students, offering detailed information about how agencies are organized, how to prepare for a job interview and how to develop a portfolio of work for those interested in becoming copywriters or art directors.
That channel has links to other resources, like the online job board at www.AAAAdvertisingJobs.com, set up by the Four A's by an agency known as Little Tornadoes in New York. Job seekers can search the directory of posted positions by agency, location or job function and apply online. There were 463 jobs posted from 378 agency offices as of last Thursday.
Other channels at www.AEF.com offer more general information about advertising's relationship to society and the economy. They include a reference library with news articles on advertising and advertising-related topics, an academic journal and a schedule of coming events. There is also a channel offering "interactive dialogues" with participants in the ambassador program, for online question-and-answer sessions.
"I wish I was an advertising student about a year from now when this puppy's really humming," Mr. Bell said.
Ron Mason, executive vice president and human resources director at BBDO Worldwide in New York, part of the Omnicom Group, described Web sites like the foundation's as helpful because they wererepresentative of how students now obtain information.
But when it comes to another industry problem -- retaining employees who are pondering an exit -- Web sites are "not the best or only vehicle," he added.
"Try to have discussions and tell them how well they're doing, and when they can move ahead," Mr. Mason said. "Keep a person from sitting there wondering what's happening with their career."
Mr. Mason said he found it more difficult to retain employees with about two years' experience than to find talented entry-level employees.
"For those who see the dollar signs, we can't compete; we're not going to even try," he added. "Find out what else a person is missing."
ALLISON FASS, May 23, 2000, The New York Times
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